The Friendship of the Saints

By: Fr. Aloysius Roche

saints

This article is adapted from a chapter in Fr. Roche’s book,  The Bedside Book of Saints.

Solomon says, “A faithful friend is the medicine of life and immor ­tality”;and he adds the significant words: “They that fear the Lord shall find him.”  The Old Testament delights us with the story of the friendship of David and Jonathan. “Jonathan loved David as his own soul”; and David’s love for Jonathan “passed the love of woman.”

Our Lord Himself called the Apostles His friends, and He meant His particular friends because “all things whatsoever I have heard of my Father, I have made known to  you.” This encouraged the saints – even the most detached of them – to seek out kindred souls to give them their confidence and their friendship. They were well aware that although the Gospel bases perfection upon detachment of heart, it does not therefore follow that we are forbidden to love anyone with an affection stronger and more sensible than that which we are obliged to entertain for all in general.

Indeed, a whole volume might be written on the friendships of the saints – friendships that were, in the best sense of the word, particular friendships. “There is not a man who has a heart more tender and more open to friendship than mine or who feels more keenly than I do the pain of separation from those I love.” This is St. Francis de Sales’s description of himself; and we may be sure that it could be applied to the majority of God’s great servants.

How delightful to find this in the autobiography of St. Thérèse of the Infant Jesus: “When I entered Carmel, I found in the novitiate a companion about eight years older than I was. In spite of the difference of age, we became the closest friends; and to encourage an affection that gave promise of fostering virtue, we were allowed to converse together.”

The  Mirror of Perfection  tells us that when St. Francis was dying, St. Clare also was very ill. “The Lady Clare, fearing she would die before him, wept most bitterly and would not be comforted, for she thought that she would not see before her departure her Comforter and Master.” Now, this is a very human situation and very human language, and we can appreciate both. This is exactly how great friends feel about one another.

St. Teresa of Avila wrote in this very strain to her friend, Don Francisco de Salcedo: “Please God you will live until I die; then I shall ask God to summon you promptly, lest I should be without you in Heaven.”

Like so many of the saints, St. Augustine had the power of winning and attracting devoted followers. Perhaps no Father of the Church had so many or such enthusiastic friends. And in the letters that passed between them, we see how generously he re ­sponded to these affections. For example, he addresses Nebridius as “My sweet friend,” and he writes to St. Jerome, “O that it were possible to enjoy sweet and frequent converse with you; if not by living with you at least by living near you.”

St. Bernard thus laments the death of his friend Humbert of Clairvaux: “Flow, flow, my tears, so eager to flow. He who prevented your flowing is here no more. It is not he who is dead but I – I who now live only to die. Why, oh why, have we loved and why have we lost one another?”

We are told of St. Philip Neri that friendship was one of the few innocent joys of life that he permitted himself; and certainly Providence lavished friends upon him in spite of the fact that no man ever tried the patience and virtue of his friends as did he.

Indeed, it seems to have been only necessary for people to come in contact with these saints to love them. “It is a favor bestowed on me by God,” wrote St. Teresa, “that my presence always gives pleasure to others.” One of her earliest biographers, Ribera, said of her, “She was and she looked so amiable that everybody loved her.”

Bl. Angela of Foligno had such a hold upon the affections of all who knew her, that out of pity for their feelings, she concealed the knowledge she had of her approaching death. Gallonio said of St. Philip Neri, “He hid the secret of his approaching death, lest our hearts should be crushed with sorrow.”

This is how St. Basil writes to the wife of his friend Nectarius to console her on the death of her son: “I know what the heart of a mother is, and when I think how very kind and gentle you in par ­ticular are, I can estimate how great must be your grief at the present moment. O plague of an evil demon, how great a calamity it has had the power to inflict! O earth, that has been compelled to submit to an affliction such as this! But let us not condemn the just decision of God. Above all, spare the partner of your life: be a consolation to one another; do not make the misfortune harder for him to bear.”

We must bear in mind, of course, that in those days, simplicity was a practical virtue. Christians expressed their feelings and sentiments with a naiveté to which we are strangers. We neither speak nor write the sincere idiom of the past. But our forefathers in the faith were not our sort of people at all. All their literature is marked by a charming spontaneity and exuberance of expression. Into the letters that they wrote to their friends they put the same straightforward frankness they put into their poetry and their Christmas carols. St. Boniface, for example, writes in exactly the same strain to all his friends; that is to say, he writes as few would be willing to write nowadays. Thus, to the Archbishop of York: “To a friend worthy of being embraced in the arms of love.” St. Anselm writes, “Go into the secret place of thy heart, look there at thy love for me, and thou shalt see mine for thee.” And again: “The soul of my Osbern, ah! I beseech thee, give it no other place than in my bosom.”

It is true that this phraseology was more or less stereotyped. Formulas were drawn up by those who were good at it, and they were circulated especially among the monasteries and convents. They served as models and were copied to form the beginnings and endings of the letter. This may explain why we find in St. Jerome’s letters (for example, to Rufina) almost the identical sen ­tences found in those of St. Boniface. Many of these formulas have survived: “To So-and-so, his humble countryman, who would embrace him with the wings of a sincere and indissoluble charity, sends salutations in the sweetness of true love.” Again: “Remem ­ber me; I always remember you. I give you all the love that is in my heart.”

We may find a little comfort in knowing that some of the saints were rather disappointed in their friends. St. Basil and St. Gregory, as we have seen, had serious misunderstandings in the end. Dona Isabel Roser was for years the staunch friend of St. Ignatius. She could not do too much for him; and, indeed, she had once actually saved his life, by dissuading him from sailing in an unseaworthy vessel that foundered on its voyage, with the loss of all hands. At one period, the saint writes to her, “I am persuaded that if I were to forget all the good that God has done me through you, His Divine Majesty would forget me also.” Yet, this same good Dona Isabel’s love turned to spite. She subjected St. Ignatius to a great deal of annoyance in Rome, whither she had followed him, and she ended by taking proceedings against him for embezzlement in the Ecclesiastical Courts. Needless to say, she lost her case, and she also lost her friend.

“A friend is long sought, scarcely found, and hard to keep”: with this reflection, Abbess Eangyth ends one of her letters to St. Boniface; so that it appears that even the saints shared the disappointments common to plain people like ourselves. Indeed, they sometimes lavished their affections on rather an ungrateful world.

The prophets of old were stoned for their pains; and the task of the reformer is proverbially a thankless task. Scant recognition came to Fr. Damien during his lifetime: his motives were suspected, and even his character was assailed. St. John Bosco was looked upon by some as a madman. St. Teresa of Avila and St. Catherine of Siena were accused of being bad women, and their very friendships were misunderstood. Some of our English martyrs were be ­trayed by those whom they regarded as friends.

But if affection is unrequited, it is never thereby wasted. There is no such thing as wasted affection. “The real reward of love is found in loving.” Love is its own reward. We are happier often in the affection we feel than in that which we excite; and when, by an unhappy chance, love goes out from our hearts only to be rejected, it returns again, so that to some extent, we are the gainers.

Credit to  Fr. Aloysius Roche &  CatholicExchange.

Catholics & Depression

By: Catholic World Report Staff

depression

Dr. Aaron Kheriaty, MD, is the author, with Msgr. John Cihak, STD, of the book,  The Catholic Guide to Depression: How the Saints, the Sacraments, and Psychiatry Can Help You Break Its Grip and Find Happiness Again  (Sophia Institute Press, 2012). Dr. Kheriaty is the Director of Residency Training and Medical Education in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of  California, Irvine. He co-directs the Program in Medical Ethics in the School of Medicine, and serves as chairman of the clinical ethics committee at UCI Medical Center. Dr. Kheriaty graduated from the University of Notre Dame in philosophy and pre-medical sciences, and earned his MD degree from Georgetown University. Msgr. Cihak is a priest of the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon who currently works in the Vatican. He helped to start  Quo Vadis Days  camps promoting discernment and the priesthood at the high school level that now operate in several U.S. dioceses. He has been a pastor and served in seminary formation.

Dr. Kheriaty & Msgr. Cihak

Their book “reviews the effective ways that have recently been devised to deal with this grave and  sometimes deadly affliction– ways that are not only consistent with the teachings of the Church, but even rooted in many of those teachings.” The authors were recently interviewed by Carl E. Olson, editor of  Catholic World Report, about the serious challenges posed by depression and how those challenges can be best addressed through faith, clinical science, and other means.

CWR:  The topic of depression is fairly commonplace, but you note that there is no simple definition of “depression”. What are some of the major features of depression? Is it just an emotional state, or more?

Dr. Kheriaty:  Depression is more than just an emotional state, though of course it typically involves profound changes in a person’s emotions.   Sadness and anxiety are the most common emotional states associated with depression, though anger and irritability are also commonly found in depressed individuals.   Depression affects other areas of our mental and physical life beyond our emotions. Depressed individuals typically experience changes in their thinking, with difficulty concentrating or focusing, and a lack of cognitive flexibility.   Depressed individuals develop a kind of “tunnel vision” where their thoughts are rigidly and pervasively negative.   In many cases, suicidal thinking is present, driven by thoughts or feelings of hopelessness and despair.   A person with depression often feels physically drained, with low levels of energy, little or no motivation, and slowed movements.

Another feature of depression is what psychiatrists called “anhedonia”, which is the inability to experience pleasure or joy in activities that the person would typically enjoy.   Sleep is often disturbed, and the normal sleep-wake cycle is disrupted.    Changes in appetite are common, often with consequent weight loss or occasionally weight gain (in so-called “atypical depression”).   So we see that depression involves many mental and physical changes, and affects not just a person’s emotions, but also their physical health and their ability to think clearly and act in the world.

CWR:  Christians sometime think, or are tempted to think, that depression is a sign of spiritual failure or evidence of a lack of faith. What are the problems with, and dangers of, such perspectives?

Dr. Kheriaty:  The problem with this perspective is that it does not recognize that depression is a complex illness with many contributing factors.   While we acknowledge in  The Catholic Guide to Depression  that spiritual or moral factors can be among the causes, we also argue that there are many other factors that play a role in the development of depression, many of which are outside of the patient’s direct control — biological factors, genetic predispositions, familial and early attachment problems, interpersonal loss, traumatic experiences, early abuse, neglect, and so on.   If we attend only to the spiritual or moral factors, then we do the person a disservice by ignoring other important contributing elements that often play a significant role in depression.   With that said, the spiritual factors, and other behavioral factors within a patient’s control, should not be ignored either.   We wrote this book, in part, as a way to bring the medical, social, and biological sciences into dialogue with philosophy, theology, and Catholic spirituality, in order to gain a fuller and more comprehensive understanding of this complex affliction.   We hope that this multifaceted approach will help people more adequately address depression from all of these complementary perspectives.

Msgr. Cihak:  I would completely agree. I think perhaps sometimes in our desire to get to the bottom of things, we can tend to oversimplify the situation. As Dr. Kheriaty said, there can be many contributing factors. The book reflects an intentionally Catholic approach by integrating the truths of medicine, philosophy and faith. We should keep the whole in mind as well as the deep connection between the body and the soul. In our respective vocations, we have both encountered people suffering from depression who actually manifest a strong faith, which they themselves might not be able to see, but which has been helping them to keep going in the tough times. That being said, we attempt to demonstrate in the book that our Faith has profound things to say about depression, its deepest theological origins, its redemption by Jesus Christ and its transformation in His Church.

CWR:  Are psychiatry and Christian faith in opposition to one another? If not, how can Christians discern between the benefits of psychiatry and problematic theories, for example, Freudian or Jungian accounts of religious belief and human relationships?

Msgr. Cihak:  Put simply, no. Since all truth has its ultimate origin in God, the Church has always taught that the truths of faith and the truths of reason can never contradict each other. On this point, we can appeal to giants such as St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure as well as the various pronouncements of the Magisterium such as Bl. John Paul II’s  Fides et Ratio. Because of this common divine origin, we can say that all truths have an intrinsic unity; truth is symphonic. Put one truth next to another and they resonate with each other. Sound medical or psychological science, and Christian faith rightly understood and interpreted, are not and never have been in opposition. We see our task as Catholic thinkers to build bridges between these sciences, always maintaining their proper competencies and autonomy, and to search out these harmonies, confident that they are already there to be discovered.

Dr. Kheriaty:  We should add, however, that at various points in the history of psychiatry, some psychiatrists have ventured beyond what medical science can legitimately claim, and have made anti-religious claims in the name of psychiatry, or masquerading under the banner of “science”.   For example, the founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, famously claimed that religious belief was psychologically unhealthy — indeed, he called religion the “universal obsessive neurosis of mankind”.   But this claim had nothing to do with actual empirical research; it instead reflected Freud’s own personal bias against religion.   The elements of his theory upon which this claim supposedly relied were never scientific; that is, they could not be subjected to scientific measurement or empirical proof.   The fact is that more recent evidence from a large body of medical and scientific research has shown that for most people, religious and spiritual practices (like meditative prayer, attending church regularly, and participating in communal worship) actually have positive benefits on a person’s mental and physical health, including reducing the risk of depression and helping patients to recover more quickly from depressive episodes.

Our book is one attempt to help readers thoughtfully discern between the legitimate benefits of psychiatry and problematic theories that have sometimes been put forward in the name of psychiatry or psychology.   There are other Catholic writers, Paul Vitz for example, who have addressed these issues in some of their writings as well.   Certainly there is more work that needs to be done in this area by people that have expertise in both the medical and psychological sciences and in philosophical anthropology and spiritual theology.   We need ongoing academic research and dialogue here, as well as people who can “translate” this intellectual work into writing that is accessible to a lay audience.   We hope that our book can make a contribution to this dialogue.   We also hope that it will serve as a user-friendly and practical guide for people suffering from depression, as well as for therapists, clergy, spiritual directors, and family members or friends who are trying to help a loved one with depression.

CWR:  Bl. John Paul II said (as you quote), “Depression is always a spiritual trial.” What should Christians know about the relationship between depression and the spiritual life? How is the “dark night of soul” different from various forms of depression?

Dr. Kheriaty:  Depression certainly affects our spiritual life, and our spiritual life is central to helping us prevent or recover from depression. Depression is indeed a spiritual trial because it wounds us so deeply — you could say that it is an affliction not just of the body but also of the soul.   Depression can make prayer feel impossibly hard (though prayer is always possible, even when affective consolations are absent, even when we are assailed by dryness or distraction). We can know, with certainty and confidence, that God is our loving Father, that he is close to us and that he sustains us, even through painful trials and periods of suffering in this life.   We know also, in faith, that our suffering is not pointless, but can be redemptive when united to the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross.

Msgr. Cihak:  Although depression can sometimes resemble on the surface other spiritual or moral states, like spiritual lukewarmness or acedia on one hand, or the dark nights of the senses and of the spirit described by St. John of the Cross on the other, we argue in the book that it is very important to distinguish carefully between depression and these states because these states mean different things. In the case of lukewarmness or acedia, it is a negative, bad trend in the spiritual life involving moral fault which results in weakening one’s movement toward the Lord. The dark nights are actually positive, good, grace-filled movements in the spiritual life bringing one into deeper intimacy with the Lord.

Dr. Kheriaty:  Yes, exactly.   With careful and prudent discernment, these states of mind and soul can be distinguished.   For example, the dark night is typically not accompanied by the physical or bodily symptoms of depression, like sleep disturbances, appetite changes, or changes in one’s level of physical energy.   These distinctions can be made by consultation with a prudent spiritual director, ideally in conjunction with and communication with a sensitive psychiatric or medical assessment when symptoms of depression are present.   We describe these various states and distinguish them in some detail in  The Catholic Guide to Depression; however, it’s also important to recognize that sometimes these states can appear together, so clean distinctions are often difficult in practice.   Depression can go hand-in-hand with acedia or spiritual lukewarmness; it may be sustained by behaviors that, wittingly or unwittingly, the afflicted person is engaging in, and which call for repentance and reform.

CWR:  What are some reasons for people committing suicide? What are some of the challenges faced in dealing with those struggling with suicidal tendencies and impulses?

Msgr. Cihak:  I think the first thing we must say is that suicide is awful. I think one of the more powerful parts of the book is Dr. Kheriaty’s discussion of one such tragedy. God is the sovereign Master of life. We are the stewards, not owners, of the life entrusted to us by Him. Suicide contradicts the natural human inclination to live, which is placed in us by the good God. So suicide is gravely contrary to the just love of self, love of neighbor and love of God. However, though it is always wrong, the Church teaches that conditions such as grave psychological disturbances, anguish, grave fear of hardship, or suffering can diminish one’s responsibility in committing suicide (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2280-2283).

Dr. Kheriaty:  The reasons for a person’s suicide often remain a mystery, to a large extent.   Research on suicide suggests that it is typically an ambivalent and impulsive act.   The person’s rationality may be impaired by a serious mental illness, like depression or psychosis.   Often drug or alcohol abuse catalyze a suicide attempt, by making a vulnerable individual more impulsive and impairing his judgment.   Depression plays a central role in a majority of suicides, which is one of the chief reasons why we should recognize and treat depression early on in the course of the episode.   A central psychological theme of most suicidal individuals is a profound sense of hopelessness.   This is one of the reasons, as research has demonstrated, that Christian faith can significantly lower the risk of suicide: our faith raises our sites to a glorious future, beyond the vicissitudes of this life; in faith, we have hope for eternal life with God.   Faith, hope, and love can therefore help us endure situations in this life that might otherwise feel intolerable.

Suicide is, tragically, all too common.   It is now the second leading cause of death among college students, and the third leading cause of death among young people age 15 — 24.   Many family members and friends struggle for the rest of their lives with a sense of guilt and self-blame after the death of a loved one by suicide, wondering what they might have done to prevent it.   In my professional experience, some suicides can be prevented, and we should always do whatever we can to lower a person’s risk of suicide. That being said, there are some suicidal individuals who are very difficult to assist.   In these instances, we place these individuals prayerfully in the hands of God, as theCatechism  states with pastoral sensitivity: “We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives.   By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance.   The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives” (2283).   And so should we.

CWR:  What are some of the myths or misnomers regarding psychotherapy? And what basis exists for a Christian approach to psychotherapy?

Dr. Kheriaty:  It seems in recent decades that the psychotherapist’s office has replaced the confessional in the Western world.   While it is true that the confession lines are all too short, and most of us, including those suffering from depression, would benefit from receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation more frequently, it is also true that the confessional is not meant to cure psychological disorders like depression.   Blessed John Paul II said as much in an address to psychiatrists when he said that the confessional is not and cannot be an alternative to the psychoanalyst or psychotherapist’s office, nor can one expect the Sacrament of Penance to heal truly pathological conditions.   He went on to say that the confessor, though he is a healer of souls, is not a physician or a healer in the technical sense of the term. In fact, if the condition of the penitent seems to require medical care, the confessor should not deal with the matter himself, but should send the penitent to competent and honest professionals.

The relationship between psychotherapy and the Sacrament of Confession once again points to the need for constructive dialogue between religion and psychiatry, between priests who are instruments of Christ’s healing in the confessional, and psychiatrists and other therapists who are instruments of Christ’s healing in psychotherapy.   Neither one can or should try to replace the work of the other.   Psychotherapy has its limitations, and therapy alone cannot cure our deepest wounds, but it can play an important role in the lives of many people in need of psychological healing.

Msgr. Cihak:  Another way of stating this truth is that no amount of psychotherapy can take away sin or the guilt that comes from sin.   For this, we need conversion and Sacramental Confession.   On the other hand, while we never presume to limit the way in which God works, the grace of the Sacrament and the counsel given in the confessional (which by necessity is usually very brief), isn’t designed to work directly on the deep and habitual patterns of thinking and feeling that are the focus of treatment in psychotherapy. In fact, by respecting the competence and autonomy of each of these two ways of healing, they can come together to work powerfully in a person’s life. We made the deliberate choice to work together on this book–one a psychiatrist and the other a priest–precisely to show how this Catholic approach can be so effective.

Dr. Kheriaty:  I’ll add a few remarks regarding your question about a Christian basis for psychotherapy.   A Christian approach to psychotherapy does not just mean that the therapist quotes Bible verses when offering counsel (though of course, this may be helpful in some circumstances).   Rather, it informs the entire approach to the patient in therapy, which seeks to know and heal the person in a way consonant with the person’s nature as a human being.   All therapists can recognize some foundational truths about the human person, by the light of reason and sound science: that the human person is a substantial unity of body and soul; that he is rational (able to grasp truth), relational (made for relationships of love and self-giving), and free to pursue the good.   A Christian therapist, moreover, by the light of revelation, can also perceive that the human person is created good, though fallen and therefore wounded, but also redeemed and capable of being sanctified by God.   This is the philosophical and theological framework within which a Catholic therapist approaches his or her work.   These characteristics, unfortunately, are often denied or contradicted by many modern and overly narrow psychological theories that do not take into account the full truth about the human person, but instead attempt to reduce the person to one or another aspect only.   This may allow for partial truths and insights to emerge, but such a reductionistic approach ultimately prevents one from seeing the full and marvelous truth about the human person as created and redeemed by God.

Msgr. Cihak:  As people can see from what Dr. Kheriaty said, psychotherapy has everything to do with the big questions of human life, and therefore has everything to do with philosophy and theology. Psychotherapy is basically applying philosophical and theological insights to the way we think, feel and approach life. It is fundamentally a human science. Psychotherapy can benefit from the full truth of the human person that comes from the philosophical and theological tradition of the Church; and this same tradition can benefit from way these ideas actually come to bear on a person’s life in psychotherapy.

CWR:  What are some of the spiritual disorders that lead to depression?

Msgr. Cihak:  I think we could begin by observing that sin creates misery. Moral evil is not simply a bad idea; it harms and ruins peoples’ lives. The fundamental spiritual disorder is the choice of sin, which if left unchecked becomes habitual and begins to corrupt and even destroy that vital relationship with the Lord of life who desires our fulfillment and happiness. So being immersed in serious sin can certainly lead one to or hold one in a depressive state.

Dr. Kheriaty:  Precisely.   I will mention as well the sin of  despair, which is contrary to the virtue of hope, and commonly leads to depressive states.   Also  envy, which is a form of sadness at another person’s good, can also incline one toward depression.   Spiritual lukewarmness or coldness in relation to the things of God, and what George Weigel has called “metaphysical boredom”, a sort of spiritual ennui, can put a person at risk for depressive or anxious states.   Atheism, especially in the face of death, can lead ultimately to despair or a denial of reality.   A person faces his own mortality, yet lacks a transcendental hope or a spiritual reference point, will often resort to desperate attempts to control the timing and circumstances of his death, or to avoid suffering at all costs.   We see this in the push for physician-assisted suicide, for example.   The world is chock full of dead end paths that lead a person away from ultimate and lasting happiness.   Not all spiritual disorders lead to clinical depression, but all spiritual disorders ultimately lead toward unhappiness of one form or another.

CWR:  How can the saints and the sacraments bring freedom from anxiety and depression?

Msgr. Cihak:  The saints show the life of Christ to be real, concrete and possible.

Dr. Kheriaty:  Well said.   When we look to the saints for help with depression, it’s important to remember that every one of the saints was a person of flesh and blood, just like us.   Each of them had defects that they had to struggle to overcome.   Too many overly pious biographies of saints gloss over the messy aspects of their life and omit their defects or vulnerabilities, as though these people were sanctified from birth — as though they were made from fundamentally different “stuff” than the rest of us.   These well-intentioned books ought to be tossed in the trash bin.   The saints were real people.   They fought and won; they fought and lost.   But the thing that made them saints is that when they were defeated by their own weaknesses, they got up again, brushed themselves off, and with God’s grace, they went back into the fray to fight again.   Many of them suffered from depression or other severe mental illnesses at various points in their journey of life.   With God’s grace they finished the race, they kept the faith.   The saints can, through their friendship and their intercession, help us also to fight the battles against our own defects and weaknesses, to struggle and persevere on those days that feel messy, where nothing seems to be going right.   They know; they’ve been there too.   And from Heaven they are cheering us on to victory.

Msgr. Cihak:  If the saints make the divine life a real possibility and a concrete invitation to imitate, then the Sacraments are the primary way that the divine life is communicated to us. Jesus does nothing superfluous, and so the Sacraments that He instituted should be of paramount importance to the Christian. Immersing ourselves in the sacramental life, as well as cultivating a life of prayer and virtue, is what we call “the ordinary means of sanctification”. These means can be of great help in resisting and recovering from mental illness, including depression. It is important to remember that the primary aim of the graces of the Sacraments is to accomplish the work of salvation in us, but we ought not to overly compartmentalize the effects of grace given the unity of the human person. Grace can also accomplish physical and mental healing when it is part of God’s plan for us. In any case, the Lord’s grace is always good for us.

CWR:  Therapy, you note, cannot uncover the most important truths about the human person. What is the foundational truth that must be appropriated in order that we might be whole and healed?

Msgr. Cihak:  God desires our happiness. We were made in His very image and called to become like Him. We were created to live with the Blessed Trinity forever and to have our humanity become fully illuminated and enlivened by the divine life. This happens through Jesus Christ, the one and only Savior of the world. Because of sin, the path to that destiny is marked by the Cross. So every follower of Christ will have difficulties and struggles in this earthly life. Sometimes struggling against depression is part of one’s conformity to the Cross of Christ, which always leads to everlasting life. By union with Christ, in the end, He will form us by the power of His grace to be like Him, truly Godlike.

Dr. Kheriaty:  Here is another way of saying the same thing: the most important truth about us is truth of our divine filiation — the marvelous truth that  God is my loving Father.   In Christ the Son, my Savior, I am an adopted son or daughter of God.   Each day we should try to go deeper into the meaning of this truth for our lives.   The fact that God is my loving Father is not just one more fact among many; it is, so to speak, the lens through which I should view everything else in my life and in the world.   God loves me more intensely and more affectionately than all the fathers and mothers of this world love their children.   He is close to me, so very close, “more inward to me than I am to myself,” in St. Augustine’s mysterious formulation.   Not only did he create me, in love he sent his own Son to redeem me from sin, from death, and from despair.   Jesus Christ, who is our brother, our friend, our Savior and our God, says to us now what he said to his apostles the night before he died: “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament but the world will rejoice; you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy” (Jn 16:20), and he assures us, “In the world you will have tribulation, but take courage, for I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33).

Credit to Catholic World Report Staff and CatholicExchange.

The Miracle of John Paul II

By: Patricia Treece

JPII

Moments after Pope John Paul II’s death on April 2, 2005, the chant “Santo subito! Santo subito!” [“Sainthood now!”] begins from the sad, but somehow exhilarated, crowd in St. Peter’s Square. Through all the events that are part of burying a pope, it continues.

Through all this, in the south of France, Sr. Marie Simon-Pierre’s struggle with Parkinson’s is not going well. For some time before his death watching him on television had gotten too hard. “I saw myself,” she would later remember, “my own future.”

When Parkinson’s hits an individual who is sixty or seventy, the disease often moves slowly. Sr. Simon-Pierre  was probably already ill in her early thirties. In younger people, Parkinson’s can move very fast. After diagnosis, she did her best to carry on her work in the maternity birthing ward. But before the pope died, tremors causing trouble controlling her hand movements forced her to give up handling fragile newborns for off-the-floor work in administration. To add to her distress, although she was exhausted, sleeping was becoming increasingly difficult.

Pope Benedict’s waiver to open the Cause became official on May 13. Immediately Sister’s community, the Congregation of the Little Sis ­ters of Catholic Motherhood,  united in asking John Paul II to get God to work a miracle for Sr. Marie Simon-Pierre. Women of faith as well as of medicine, they prayed fervently with “strong hope.” Even their one foreign mission in Senegal, Africa, joined in.

As if thumbing the papal nose at the little French community, rather than a cure, Sr. Marie Simon-Pierre’s condition at once deteriorated markedly. June 1, the two-month anniversary of John Paul’s death, she could no longer go on. The pain was unbearable. It was a struggle to  even stand. Walking, kneeling, and driving a car were terribly difficult, all hampered like face, hand, arm, and other parts on her left side by stiffening as the muscles hardened. She was left-handed, and the entire left arm now hung as if lifeless at her side.

That afternoon, she dragged herself to the office of her immediate superior of the past sixteen years, Sr. Marie Thomas Fabré, a midwife serving the congregation as one of its leaders. The suffering sister asked permission to give up professional work. Sr. Thomas, not quite grasping the deterioration the last two months had brought, thought to encourage her younger charge’s hope and faith, reminding Sr. Simon-Pierre that the community were sending her to the healing shrine Lourdes in August. The superior asked her to stay at her post until then. When Sr. Simon-Pierre tried to explain about her hands, Sr. Thomas told her to write the name of John Paul II.

As she looked at the paper, it hit Sr. Thomas just how bad Sr. Simon-Pierre’s condition had become. They looked at each other and then simply sat silently for a time praying. Sr. Thomas recalls, “I remember praying and thinking at this moment that we had tried everything [medically] and that we had reached the end. ‘Lord, the only thing left is a miracle!’ That’s how I expressed my thoughts.”

Before Sr. Marie Simon-Pierre made her laborious way out of the office, her superior found herself saying, “John Paul has not said his last word.”

She had no idea how true that was about to be!

Some hours later alone in her room, somewhere between 9:30 and 9:45 p.m., Sr. Simon-Pierre  relates, “something in my heart seemed to say, ‘Take up a pen and write.’ ”  She did, writing some Scripture, and, in her words, “the pen skipped across the page.” Before her eyes, her handwriting was clear, completely legible,  normal.

Filled with excitement – still, as is actually not uncommon with those receiving miracles, she did not take in what had happened to her two months to the day and hour  after John Paul died of her disease. An event so momentous, simply too much to absorb, continuing her routine, she went to bed. But at 4:30 in the morning she woke. First she was in awe that she had actually slept. Mornings with the stiffness and fatigue unconquered by sleep were normally “very difficult” but not this one. She recalls, “I got up fully alive.” There was no pain, stiffness, nothing. Even interiorly, she could later say of the moment that she felt “much different.” Dressing without trouble, she hurried to Jesus in the tabernacle.  Filled with thanksgiving for the changes in her body, she spent an hour or so expressing her gratitude and joy for what she would later describe as “a bit like a rebirth.” Then she went to the community chapel and joined her community for Mass. She – who for a long time had not been able to stand steadily enough to do so – volunteered to do the Scripture readings for the daily celebration, proclaiming with gusto. It was only as she received Jesus in the consecrated bread during  the Mass, she says in one interview, that she was able to finally absorb beyond a shadow of doubt that she no longer had Parkinson’s.

Buoyed by the “peace and joy of her Communion,” Sr. Simon-Pierre, for whatever reason, still went back to her room as she did each day and took her morning medication. As always, it caused nausea and made eating so difficult that her weight over time had plummeted. At noon, she decided to stop medication and noticed she was eating that meal normally.

Later that day, Sr. Thomas relates that she met Sr. Simon-Pierre, who had put in a phone call wanting to see her “right away,” in a corridor. Sr. Simon-Pierre excitedly shared her cure. She produced an account she had written.

Now it is Sr. Marie Thomas’s turn to not quite get it. Deeply shaken, she can’t understand what is going on even with the handwritten document before her. As Simon-Pierre insists that she is healed, her stupefied superior demands, “How come you are healed?” The miracle recipient wants to rush to tell the mother superior, Mother Marie Marc. But when she further gushes she has taken no more medication, Sr. Thomas exclaims, “That will kill her!” These are, after all, professional medical women oriented to complying with medical directives.

The mother superior, Marie Marc, is told the following day. She waits for Marie Simon-Pierre’s visit to her neurologist. That takes place on the seventh, a regularly scheduled checkup. As she walks in, the absence of  any Parkinson’s symptoms is so striking, the physician exclaims, “What have you been doing? Doubling up on your Dopamine?”

Sister replies, on the contrary, she is taking no medication (this is now four days). When she tells the doctor what God has done through the request for John Paul’s intercessory prayer, he is shocked, speechless. But his examination agrees that his suddenly former patient has no sign of Parkinson’s. (He will see her again to confirm this several weeks and then several months later.)

The visit over, Mother Marie Marc consults with the neurologist her ­self. That evening she tells the community. Given the news (although asked to keep it among themselves), members enthusiastically switch from asking for a miracle to praising and thanking God and His praying servant, as they marvel over the cure of their “incurable.”

Next the mother superior reports what to her and the other sisters is a miracle to the postulator  of John Paul II’s Cause, Monsignor Slawomir Oder. Oder asks the local bishop, Archbishop Claude Feidt, head of the diocese of Aix-en-Provence, to investigate. Following standard procedures in such matters, Feidt sets up a special commission under Fr. Luc-Marie Lalanne. The thorough investigation involves an expert neurologist  who sets up the questions that need answers. Those involved include other neurologists, professors of  neurology, a neuropsychiatrist, a psychiatrist, and even a handwriting expert, since handwriting is an important gauge of Parkinson’s.  Theologians and canon lawyers also play a part.

It takes a year, during which Sr. Simon-Pierre is probed and prodded, body, mind, and soul. In the end, the verdict is favorable. Sr. Marie Si-mon-Pierre’s cure becomes one of those inexplicable-by-human-efforts, doctor-seconded cures that are being sent by bishops to the postulator.

During 2007 Sr. Marie Simon-Pierre, now 46 and working quietly at the order’s maternity hospital in Paris, comes into the public eye as a beatification-miracle candidate (this is rare, a new phenomenon as cures being studied are traditionally kept under wraps). Interviewed, before TV cameras, at a press conference with Archbishop Feidt she admits willingly, “I am cured. It is the work of God, through the intercession of Pope John Paul II.”

Pressed by members of the press to claim the healing is a miracle, she sagely mimics a man cured by Jesus: “I was sick, and now I am cured [cf. John 9:25]. I am cured, but it is up to the Church to say whether it was a miracle or not.”

She and the archbishop are present in Rome that year on April 2. It is the second anniversary of John Paul’s death, and Pope Benedict celebrates a Mass to mark the occasion. It is also the second anniversary of her cure. Archbishop Feidt formally delivers the findings of his commission to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. The archbishop and nursing sister also attend ceremonies that mark this as the day when the Cause of John Paul, fast-tracked by Benedict, ends the diocesan inquiry and is formally sent, with favorable findings, to the Vatican for investigation at that level.

A Man Who Has God’s Ear

From the moments of his death, as if by instinct, people around the globe – by no means all Catholics – began turning to John Paul as a man who surely must have God’s ear.

Postulator Slawomir Oder, the man in formal charge of John Paul II’s Cause, in his words, was “being inundated with emails and letters . . . at a level of 80-100 a day.” Sent directly to Rome in envelopes of every shape and size “they came,” Oder stated, “from all over the world, even from nonbelievers.” Their writers reported various favors, including healing many did not hesitate to dub miracles.  Also arriving after diocesan investigation were claims of miracles from bishops, like the one made on behalf of Sr. Marie Simon-Pierre. By 2007, from varied sources, there were many cures that looked as if they might be the real thing.

Sister Marie Simon-Pierre’s case could easily have been just one in what was, so to speak, a huge pile. But Mother Marie Marc’s report for some reason had caught postulator Oder’s eye. Perhaps because it is Parkinson’s? Perhaps because it was submitted by a mother superior rather  than a bishop or just anyone? At any rate, he had looked into it even before the local bishop did. Now, for whatever reason, her cure is one of those submitted by bishops chosen for a deeper look.

As this inquiry by the Congregation of the Causes of Saints’ medical commission is in progress, there is a flurry of opposition to Sister’s cure in the press. It goes like this: Parkinson’s is incurable. If she has been cured, she must not have had Parkinson’s. Since she  was  healed, she had some neurological condition that can be cured. Ignored is that her complete instantaneous cure of an advanced neurological disorder was obviously not of a kind to be ascribed to medical intervention whatever neurological disease she had – and that, more importantly, the nurse’s Parkinson’s diagnosis was well established.

On May 1, 2011, Sr. Marie Simon-Pierre is there seated among those who will play a part.

A year later, a priest asks her on TV  whether she was scared doing this, reminding her of the million and a half onlookers. The sister, who has sat for the TV interview with this priest who wants people to be made aware miracles do actually happen, with her hands quietly in her lap (there is only once a glimpse she has in them a small circle of rosary beads), happy to let others do the talking for her, lights up. She responds at once, “I had the impression that I was being carried by angels, one on each side. I felt very light.” She sensed, she goes on, that she was carrying to the altar all the sick who ask her congregation’s prayers (a companion sister interjects that it is the cured sister who is asked a lot for her prayers). It seems from her description that the verse that rang in her head about seeing glory has been fulfilled.

Miracles affect a recipient, body, mind, and soul. The French nurse, working again today with mothers experiencing difficult pregnancies and babies born with problems, has been a person of faith at least since she gave herself as totally as she could to God when she was a teenager. When she is next asked by the inquisitive priest what, after the miracle is different in her life, she does not speak again of her restored physical abilities. She speaks instead of her experience of “great interior peace and joy. My spiritual life has been completely transformed.” There is much she could say,  but she volunteers only one example to the TV interviewer: “Eucharistic adoration [being with Jesus in the tabernacle] is a very powerful moment in my life.” And finally the nursing sister says she believes she has a greater compassion for the sick and those who suffer. She admits to receiving letters from Americans who write her for  prayers and, through the translator, expresses her desire to reach out to these people.

A miracle is also never just for the individual who receives it.

This act of God, permitting his beatification, served John Paul and the Catholic Church. It has also given new encouragement, says Sr. Marie Thomas Fabré, to the sisters. The eighty-some-year-old congrega ­tion founded in 1930 has always operated on the principle that every human life is precious, even one that may have to live with limitations and disabilities.

In a time when many disagree that all life  is worthy of defense, affirming life’s value is getting harder. With the miracle, she says, “John Paul II has looked on our little community and given us the courage to continue” this part of their mission. Both Sr. Marie Thomas and Sr. Marie Simon-Pierre believe John Paul II is truly with their con ­gregation, referring, for one thing, to the feeling each had, when they sat silently together in prayer when things looked darkest and later, when they told then mother superior Marie Marc of the miracle, that he was “in the room.”

Beyond all this, to some of us it seems fitting that Sr. Marie Simon-Pierre was cured through the dead pope’s compassionate prayers for someone whose condition he understood only too well, God gifting not just Marie Simon-Pierre but newly dead John Paul II, as well. That he may have especially liked bringing it to a Parkinson’s sufferer seems entirely reasonable.

Credit to  Patricia Treece of CatholicExchange.  

Build A Spiritual Defense

By: Kathleen Beckman

cross

Most of us can sense when something is working against us as we persevere to grow in faith and strive to live the Gospel in communion with Christ. Sometimes, quite suddenly our peace of soul or joy in the Lord is oppressed by heaviness and negativity. Many people experience situations when strife arises, friendships abruptly break down, misunderstandings in families or groups cause division, odd accidents happen, strange twists occur and pathways are blocked. It is imprudent to always assume these are due to diabolical influences but often the devil is in mix. When a person becomes a threat to the demonic realm due to their love for God and/or some good work that builds up the Church, the devil reacts to the degree that  God  allows. Human messiness is due to our foibles and sin but there can be a diabolical influence. All men experience temptation and most also experience diabolical oppression at some level.

Christ allowed himself to be confronted by the devil to teach us how to resist him. It is sometimes necessary that we personally repeat the words of our Lord, “Be gone Satan”(Matt 4:10). Scripture should readily be on our lips in defense of our dignity and vocation. Sacramental baptism confers authority upon us as children of God so that in the  name of Jesus Christ  we effectively pray against demonic attacks.

Exorcist priests will look for natural causes and if there is no apparent natural cause–the reality may be that a spirit  not of God  is asserting oppression upon persons and situations. The devil harasses and tempts us to betray God, others and ourselves. What then? Whether such situations are due to human weakness, sin or diabolical influence, the solution is the same. We are to bind ourselves to Christ all the more sacramentally and with increased prayer, persevere by grace that is always sufficient.

Parents protect their children by praying for and with them, claiming them for Christ alone. Spouses can do the same for one another. To break free from ordinary demonic tactics we immediately reinforce our relationship with Christ through the sacraments and prayer. We can count on Mary, angels and saints who provide real spiritual defense on our behalf.

Ordinary Demonic Tactics  can include the following. When there is natural cause for these, the devil often exacerbates it.

  • Distance: from home, family, fragmentation, isolation, loneliness, love
  • Deception: reality inverted, false promises, lies
  • Division: divided self, family, home, work, country, church
  • Diversion: delay, distract, relativism, exacerbating addictions or infirmities
  • Discouragement: acedia (Greek meaning “I don’t care”), lethargy about self, others or about the interior life, tiredness, overwhelm
  • Draining spirit: drains energy from you, extreme physical fatigue without cause, leads to waste of time, less energy, less prayer and devotion
  • Doubt: subtle to intense doubts about self, others or God undermining faith, hope and love

During his Angelus address on Sunday, 17 February 2002, commenting on the readings of the first Sunday of Lent (the temptation of Christ in the desert), Pope John Paul II said, “The Messiah’s resolute attitude is an example and an invitation for us to follow him with courageous determination. The devil, the “prince of this world” (John 12,31), even today continues his deceitful action. Every man, over and above his own concupiscence and the bad example of others, is also tempted by the devil, and the more so when he is least aware of it. How many times he easily gives in to the false flattery of the flesh and the evil one, and then experiences bitter delusions. One must stay on guard to react quickly to the onslaught of temptation. The Church, expert teacher of humanity and holiness, shows us ancient and ever new instruments for the daily combat against evil suggestions:    prayer, the sacraments, penance, careful attention to the Word of God, vigilance and fasting.”

The power of prayer

From the vantage point of a person assisting priests and exorcists who work on the frontlines of spiritual warfare, I attest to the power of prayer to banish demons. The spiritual weapons used by an exorcist and his team is available to all the faithful with the one exception,  The Rite of Exorcism. The  Rite  is a sacramental reserved for a designated priest only. The other sacramentals used in exorcism are available to everyone and these include the crucifix, holy water, the Bible, blessed objects such as rosaries and saint relics.

What occurs during a formal Rite of Exorcism? Prayer! The priest and his team ardently offer continuous prayers that include the litany of saints, the Creed, the Our Father and Hail Mary, the holy Rosary, and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. We see their effect when the demon is forced to leave the poor victim because he can’t stand the force of the prayer. Prayer releases spiritual power. Sometimes I think the demons are more aware of the spiritual power of prayer than many of us. The evil one would rather vacate than remain in the presence of faith-filled prayer.

One thing that we are keenly aware of during healing and deliverance prayer is that the battle is the Lord’s. He is always the Chief Exorcist acting in and through his priests who are prayer warriors supported by a team of more prayer warriors. We pray, pray, pray! The devil may mock us for a while, but with more prayer, he is weaker. He becomes tormented by the continuous power of prayer until he would rather leave than stay. Perseverance in faith-filled prayer is key to proclaiming the victory of Jesus Christ.

The power of the Sacraments

St. Peter reminds us, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12-14). And “be sober and vigilant; your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour; resist him, firm in your faith knowing that your fellow believers around the world undergo the same sufferings” (1 Peter 5:6-11).

No matter what level of diabolical harassment we may be experiencing–whether we suffer ordinary temptations that are common to all; or oppression that is prevalent but considered ordinary demonic activity; or obsession that is considered a spiritual disorder wherein a person needs deliverance prayer and conversion; or possession which is extremely rare and requires the Rite of Exorcism; the sacraments are vital medicine for healing. The sacraments are perpetual reservoirs of life giving, healing grace. We can ask Christ to release the power of Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Communion, Confession, Matrimony or Holy Orders to strengthen and heal us.

The Power of the Word of God

Often during deliverance or exorcism prayers, the priest asks a member of the team to proclaim the Word of God aloud. We read a scripture passage and it becomes evident that the devil is tormented by the living Word of God. We know the Word of God is  thesword of the Spirit that severs from evil.

St. Paul tells us in Romans, “We are more than conquerors in Christ” (Rom 8:37). An acronym for  conqueror  may be helpful in recalling the weapons of engagement for the “good fight”.

  • C for  Christ’s  name (the name of Jesus Christ proclaims His victory)
  • O for  obedience  (obedience to God confounds the disobedient one)
  • N for  not mine, but God’s will (our yes to God releases grace)
  • Q for  Queen  Mother (Mary crushes the head of the serpent)
  • U for  union  with Christ (Holy Communion binds us to Christ)
  • E for  evangelical poverty  (renunciation of honor, riches, sensual pleasure)
  • R for  reconciliation  (healing mercy)
  • O for  ordered life  (life ordered to Christ becomes spiritual armor)
  • R for  reject  Satan  (resist the devil and he will flee)

Vigilance and Fasting

Carelessness, presumption, denial, self-indulgence and independence lead us to fall. Christ calls us to be vigilant and aware of demonic tactics that test us as Job was tested.   One proven method that helps sharpen our spiritual vision, discernment, prayer and vigilance is the ancient art of fasting. Everyone can fast from something in order to discipline our selves for the greater joy of being a fit soldier for Christ.

God the Father taught St. Catherine of Siena, “…No one should fear any battle or temptation of the devil that may come to him, because I have made My creatures strong, and have given them strength of will, fortified in the Blood of My Son, which will, neither devil nor creature can move, because it is yours, given by Me.” (Catherine of Siena,  The Dialogue, Treatise on Discretion, 27)

While we are diligent to resist Satan with God’s grace, we should also be aware that many people are summoning him so that the cult of Satan worshippers is growing especially among young people. This is one reason there is an urgent need for the New Evangelization. Let us not only defend ourselves in the spiritual battle but also intercede for those who on the frontlines of the “good fight”–the priests.

Credit to  Kathleen Beckman of CatholicExchange.

 

Why We Love the Saints

By: Cynthia Trainque

saint nick  Having the family background that I do  (I am the only one in my family of origin that is still Catholic–everyone else now worships at the local Assembly of God) I have been asked, “Why do Catholics pray to and worship saints?” I have been told that it is idolatry and it takes away from Jesus’ role as the “one mediator between God and mankind” (1 Tim. 2:15).   So, this let us look at saints and their powerful witness and intercession. I have also been asked, “Why don’t you just pray directly to God?”

Let’s look at the term “saints” in general.   There are actually a few categories of them.   In Scripture, St. Paul seems to apply the terms “holy ones” and “saints” inter-changeably….but restricted to those who were baptized into the Faith.   Today we could also add the term “the faithful” to describe the baptized. It is also used to describe all those saints who have died but who have not been canonized–and those whose quiet holiness is known only to God. It is for this reason the Church celebrates them collectively on November 1st–All Saints’ Day.   At first it was celebrated for those who were martyred for the faith; there were so many in the early centuries of the Church that separate feast days could not be held – especially when large groups were persecuted and martyred at the same time. The third “level” of saints in the Church is of those who have been canonized.

But why does the Church make saints to begin with? Actually, it doesn’t.   It is God himself who–from age to age–has raised up certain people unto himself…people to show us the way to the “fullness of charity” (Eucharistic Prayer II) even while here on earth.   They were (and are) all powerful instruments used by God for his purpose.

In the Old Testament God raised up Noah, Abraham, Isaac, David, Solomon, Judith, Deborah, Esther and many others.   All canonizations are within the context of the Sacred Liturgy which is the highest form of praise one can give to God.   Eucharist means Thanksgiving and we give thanks for the great mercy and example he gives us through these powerful saints to inspire us and give us hope. The process of canonization is lengthy and nothing is done lightly or arbitrarily. Prudence and the test of time are necessary in order to avoid a rush to judgment about the saint’s entry into heaven.  Not only bishops and medical doctors have a part in the determination process but psychotherapists who are well versed in the Catholic Faith as well.

What are the criteria of a person’s life to make them worthy of sainthood? While one might first tend to think about their holiness of life, prayer life, good deeds to others, writings and all the usual matters   or perhaps think of their abilities to work miracles (St. Padre Pio), to levitate (St. Teresa of Avila), to have infused knowledge (St. Joseph of Cupertino), visions (St. Margaret Mary Alacoque), apparitions (Lourdes), bi-location (St. Anthony of Padua) or have survived for several years by consuming nothing but the Holy Eucharist (St. Catherine of Siena) or such other “mystical phenomena”,  the absolute first and highest among all others  are obedience to the Church and heroic virtue.

St. Ignatius of Antioch tells us in his letter to the Ephesians that it is not enough to simply honor the bishop –  as important as that is.   Rather, “we ought to regard the bishop as the Lord himself”.   One of the great documents that came out of Vatican II,Lumen Gentium, calls the bishop the “Vicar of Christ” ( ¶27).   Why obedience? It was–as Jesus himself said–his “food”; that is, to do the Father’s will (Jn 4:34). When we live our lives in obedience to our holy bishops and/or religious superiors it is then that we resemble Jesus most perfectly. Heroic virtue often goes hand in hand with obedience to the Church for quite often the saints were greatly tested by Church leadership and other religious authority.

Consider St. John of the Cross, the Carmelite monk who was the reformer of the Discalced Carmelite order of men. Although lead by God (and invited/urged by Teresa of Avila) to undertake this great reform, he was thrown into the monastery prison for some nine months, allowed a change of clothes after three months and received little food.   Rather than rebel, it was during this time in the dark, damp, rat-infested prison that John wrote one of his greatest poems–A Spiritual Canticle of the Soul and the Bridegroom Christ; it is still considered even today as a spiritual masterpiece and one of the greatest works ever in Spanish literature. That’s heroic virtue.

Heroic virtue is refusing to defend oneself in the face of false accusations by religious superiors and being expelled from one’s   community (as in the case of St. Gerard Majella) and relying on God to eventually give defense and bring forth the truth. Gerard was ultimately exonerated and allowed to return to his community. The parents of Thérèse Martin (St. Thérèse of Lisieux) are candidates for sainthood for their heroic virtue of giving all five of their daughters to religious monastic life–four to Carmel with Leonie the middle child going to the Visitation Nuns in Paray-le-Monial. Back then when a woman entered into a monastery, the parents were no longer allowed to see their daughters or, at best, only once or twice a year and only through a grille. Often the parents would suffer hardship in not having anyone to tend to them in their old age. Why suffer all of this? Love of their Beloved Jesus and love of his holy and glorious Church and a strong, passionate desire to imitate him unto death.

“Chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed,
because God tried them
and found them worthy of himself.
As gold in the furnace, he proved them,
and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself.
In the time of their judgment they shall shine
and dart about as sparks through stubble” (Wis. 3:5-7).

Let us now return to our question at hand–about praying to saints. Every Protestant who may read this will admit that they have been asked at one time or other to intercede for someone in prayer.   Yet no Protestant would ever reply, “Don’t ask me…go directly to God with your request”.   If you and I could ask another human (even in our sinfulness) to make intercession for us or the needs of someone else, we can certainly ask the saints who are surely alive in Christ.   Part of the process of canonization is that once a candidate has been declared “Venerable” a miracle must be attributed to his/her intercession before he/she can be beatified.   From there another miracle must occur prior to the canonization.   Miracles that occur through the intercession of the saints and “hold” (a person must be cured for five years before it is accepted…it must also be instantaneous, complete, inexplicable) is the acceptable proof that they are indeed in Heaven.

But–”Jesus is the sole mediator”.   According to Merriam-Webster, a mediator is a legal term–one who “mediates between parties who are at variance”–such as we were before the great Atonement of Jesus on the Cross–we who had gone “astray like sheep” (1 Pet. 2:25).   Jesus then is the  sole mediator of our salvation.   The term “mediator” is not the same as “intercessor”. The Greek for “mediator” in this passage is “mesites” (μεσίτης) while the Greek for “intercession” is “enteuxis” (ἔντευξις).   In the same part of Paul’s First Letter to Timothy quoted above he “urges…first of all that prayers, petitions, intercessions “enteuxis” (ἔντευξις) and thanksgivings be made for all people” (2:1) …nothing here about going to God direct. If Jesus is truly the sole mediator of our prayers it is because of both his mercy and generosity that allows us to pray  in  Christthrough  the Holy Spirit–our prayer is  not  outside of that of Jesus.

Even in the Book of Revelation the “prayers of God’s people went up before God from the angel’s hand,” (8:4)…not the hand of Jesus.   If this is in a vision to John from Jesus himself, it must be God’s design that it happen this way.   Rev. 5:8 calls the incense itself the “prayers of God’s people”. Therefore when a priest and especially a bishop (because within him lies the fullness of the priesthood and he is Vicar of Christ) uses incense at Mass it is richly symbolic of him sending our prayers and the Eucharistic Sacrifice to God in Heaven–a breath-taking thought! The same thing is said about praying to the Virgin Mary…she keeps nothing for herself and simply directs us, “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5).   John does not tell us that the embarrassed couple even approached Mary about their dilemma. Ever-watchful mother that she is, she saw a need and acted on it. Her faith in Jesus’ ability brought about his first of many miracles.

Let us never shy away from asking Mary and the holy saints of God in Heaven to pray for and to intercede for us.   Whatever they obtain for us glorifies God–not them.   If God answers your prayer–made either to him direct or through any number of intercessors (whether heavenly or not)–feel free to send the customary offering of $10.00 to have a Mass of Thanksgiving said in gratitude. It is the perfect act of thanks. Or, step out in faith like the first (would be) male saint in the U.S. on his way to canonization, the  Venerable Solanus Casey  who would praise and thank God for answered prayers —  before they were answered. Why not act now have that Mass said soon?

Credit to  Cynthia Trainque of CatholicExchange.

Don't Give in to Discouragement

By: Dom Hubert Van Zeller

discouragement

Psychologists tell us that one of the chief evils of our age, an evil apparently less evident in earlier ages, is that of easy defeat. Be this as it may, most people who are honest with themselves would probably have to admit to indulging in despondency. They are fortunate if they have nothing worse to confess than despondency; there are many who labor under the weight of near-despair. Whether guilty of surrendering to the tempta ­tion or whether burdened with a sense of guilt that in fact is without foundation, a man can reduce his spiritual vitality so as virtually to close his soul to the operation of hope. When hope dies, there is very little chance for faith and charity.

It is a commonplace to observe that the saints were not those who never fell, but those who never gave in to their falls. It is less generally understood that the saints felt just the same longing as we do for the excuse to go on falling. The parable of the wheat and the cockle  should show us that the saints were not only as divided against themselves interiorly as we are, but that they had to go on struggling all their lives against the de ­sire to let the cockle have its way.

A mistake we make is to think of the saints as triumphing over temptation by the felt force of ardent love. Some of them, certainly, experienced this fire, but for the most of them it has been a question of grinding out dry, hard acts of faith and hope through clenched teeth. The saints have had to fight every inch of the way against discouragement, defeatism, and even despair.

How could it be otherwise? No virtue can be productive of good unless it comes up against the evil that is its opposite. Courage is not courage until it has experienced fear: courage is not the absence of fear, but the sublimation of fear. In the same way, perseverance has to be tried by the temptation to give up, by the sense of failure, by an inability to feel the support of grace. The reason Christ fell repeatedly – one tradition would have it that He fell seven times – is at least partly be ­cause we fall repeatedly and have need of His example in re ­covering from our falls. The difference between His falls and ours is that, whereas His were because of weakness of the body, ours are because of weakness of the will. The likeness between His and ours lies simply in the use that can be made of them.

Even if we do not reproduce the Passion in any other re ­spect, we have the chance of reproducing it in perseverance under exhaustion. If, as we have seen, the Passion is con ­stantly being renewed in the members of Christ’s Mystical Body, there must always be some aspect of Christ’s suffering to which our own personal sufferings can show an affinity. If we are bearing witness to the same truth, opposing the same evil, moving in the same direction, then the same means must be used by us as those that were used by Christ – namely, patience and endurance in the all-but-defeating experience of life. The effort that we make to regain the position lost by ei ­ther circumstances or sin will reflect the effort made by Christ to return to the interrupted work of cross-bearing. Nothing of our experience need be wasted, not even our sinfulness.

So it would seem that the truly Christian man transcends discouragement only by accepting it. No man can pass beyond an obstacle except by facing it and rising above it. To go around an obstacle is not to overcome it, but to evade it. Circumven ­tion may be all right when we are traveling along a road, but it will not do when we are advancing toward God by the way of the Cross.

This article is from Dom van Zeller’s book, available from Sophia Institute Press

Of the three answers that are given to the problem of pain, it is only the Christian answer that is found to provide any lasting conviction. The Stoic approach, stifling complaint, can carry a man to heroism of a sort, but it does not supply him with a philosophy; it does not point to anything beyond a nat ­ural nobility to be developed in physical endurance.

Then comes the Christian ideal, which has nothing to do with negation and emptiness. Here is the invitation to take up the Cross; here is St. Paul preaching Christ crucified and glorying in nothing save in the Cross of Christ; here are the Apostles going about glad to be accounted worthy to suffer for Christ.  In the Christian dispensation, happiness and sanctity are found in accepting the Cross with Christ, bearing the Cross with Christ, falling under the Cross with Christ, getting up under the Cross with Christ, and going on in the knowl ­edge that this is Christ’s cross-discouragement.

A man cannot deny his discouragement any more than he can deny his existence. It is part of his existence. All he can do is deny himself the luxury of discouragement; he can mortify his tendency to self-pity. By becoming Christ-centered instead of self-centered, a man re-orientates his perceptions so as no longer to see discouragement by the light of the world, or in its purely human context, but by the light of grace and in the setting of the Passion. If Christians lived out their lives in relation to the Passion – if their wills remained in proper harmony with God’s will – they would be incapable of expe ­riencing more than the first stab of disappointment and would suffer only such pains as creation necessarily imposes. There would be no settled mood of disillusion, no dispirited pursuit of the second best, no trailing of despaired purposes, no ac ­cepted exhaustions and wastes.

But because most people live in a lamentably distant relationship to Christ’s Passion, inevitably there must result a lingering malaise in their lives that drains away their irreplaceable resources. Failing to see their place in the suffering Body of Christ, they remain blind to the significance of their discouragements.

What, after all, are the grounds for human discouragement but experience of inadequacy and loss? A man is discouraged either because he looks back at the past and sees a sequence of misfortunes that has shaped for him a mold of failure, or be ­cause he looks into the future and can see no security, happi ­ness, or prospects of success. His experience of life has given him these findings, so he feels, understandably, that life is insupportable.

But if he knew more of Christ, he would know that he had misinterpreted his experience, and that life is not at all insup ­portable. He would neither shy away from the thought of the past, nor stand dismayed by the thought of the future. The im ­mediate present would not daunt him either: he would know that it could be related, together with the failures that have been and the horrors that are in store, to the Passion.

This is not to say that deliverance from disillusion, discouragement, and despair can be effected by a mere trick of the mind – the knack of referring our desolations automatically to God – but that, in the gradual and painful conversion of the soul from self-centeredness to God-centeredness, there will be a growing tendency toward confidence. No longer brought low by the sight of so much evil in ourselves, in oth ­ers, and in the world, we rise by the slow deepening of detach ­ment to the sight of a possible good in ourselves, in others, and in the world. The vision extends to a probable good, and then to a certain good. Together with this widening of a horizon, which reveals the positive where before only the negative was expected, goes the knowledge that the only good is God’s good, and that it exists on earth – as those who receive the Word made flesh exist on earth – not of the will of man, but of God.

In the measure that we allow our desolations to be transfig ­ured by grace, so that they become part of Christ’s desolation, do we bring at the most significant level comfort to others who are desolate. “If you wish men to weep,” says Horace, “you must first weep yourself”:  if we weep for the right reason, we shall prevent others from weeping for the wrong one. If we unite our sorrows with those of Christ, we not only sanctify our own souls, raising them above the discouragements of life, but also come to act as channels of grace to the souls of those for whom, like us, Christ fell and started up again on His way to Calvary.

Credit to  Dom Hubert Van Zeller of CatholicExchange.  

God's Favorite Garden

By:  Br. Luke Hoyt, O.P.

garden

Sometimes I wonder: what makes a decorative garden “work”?

Running beneath all the landscaping techniques which escape the average viewer like myself, I think there’s one fundamental feature to aesthetic gardens that succeed: a good garden draws you in.  It beckons to you, inviting you to enter.

After all, this is why we make these gardens.  Far from serving any utility, we make them for the simple purpose of taking delight in them, for walking through them.

It just so happens that our God seems to be of a similar mind.  At the dawn of creation, right after forming man, the first thing he did was make a garden.  And then, in between his conversations with man, he strolled about in this garden “in the cool of the day,” delighting in it.  (Personally, I always picture God walking through a  Japanese  garden, along curved bridges over ponds and past lanterns beside rounded bushes….)

But this first garden is not our God’s favorite garden.

His favorite garden is the heart of the Virgin Mary.  And as with the first garden, he himself planted this garden of her heart and then walked in its midst.  For what is the Immaculate Conception but God’s creation of his finest garden?  And what is the Annunciation but God’s coming to stroll in the midst of that garden, finding it even more lovely than the first one?

And he doesn’t stop there.  He insists on making each of our hearts fertile places where he can come and labor, sculpting mulch beds, planting tree groves, shaping serpentine ponds — until our hearts are places he can delight in, where he can walk in the cool of the day.

Question, though: is it good news that God chooses to make our hearts fair gardens where he can walk about? Of course it’s good news, but what kind of good news?

It’s the kind of good news that should scare the heck out of us.

I mean, this is the LORD of Hosts.  This is the God who, when Moses asked his name, said that he is best named as I AM — pure, unadulterated, unqualified  Being.  This is the God concerning whom, when the Israelites saw him alighting on Mount Sinai, they told Moses, “You speak to us, and we will hear; but let not God speak to us, lest we die.”

And this Lord wants to sit down and make himself comfortable in  us?  Can you imagine what this God needs to do to make himself comfortable somewhere?  The kinds of gardens that this God fancies are places like the Virgin Mary’s heart — strong and deep enough to take on the suffering and death of the whole world and live to tell about it.  The kinds of flowers that this God likes are the kind that have the scent of that love and truth which can demolish kingdoms and push aside oceans.  When this God decides he’s made a garden nice enough to take a stroll in, it’s not because it looks like the kind of things we print on our get-well cards — it’s because it has, in an expression of C. S. Lewis, “beauties which pierce like swords or burn like cold iron.”

The degree of change that this demands in each of us is truly terrifying, and many of us are often in the act of running away from this fearsome and glorious Gardener.

But our God likes his gardens.  And if only we assent to leaving our gate open (at least a little!), he  will  come in.  And he will get to work.  And he will make our heart a garden where he, the LORD of Hosts, can walk in the cool of the day.

Credit to Br. Luke Hoyt, O.P. of CatholicExchange.  

 

We Are a Work in Progress

By: Fr. Ed Broom, OMV

 Work in Progress

Workshops for teachers, spring training for Baseball players, ongoing courses for professionals, coaching, reviewing, updating, cutting away the dead branches and debris–life demands constant labor to improve, upgrade and perfect. Even more important must be the constant labor at ongoing formation for followers of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.      All of us are a work in progress (W.O.P.) an incomplete project,  a task that can always be improved.

It is not uncommon for me to meet adults who received a poor catechetical formation at their First Communion, and ever since that day they have had no other spiritual formation until they decided to get married. Upon which they must comply to do a six hour formation class to prepare them for the Sacrament of Marriage, to prepare them to be faithful and loving spouses, to prepare them to be the best of parents. Obviously the church encourages a more complete formation program for its children.

Therefore, here are some practical and concrete steps that we can take to implement an ongoing program of “Permanent Formation”.

1.  Spiritual Readings.  Good books should be your best friends. They are always available, ready to be opened and read, and when put down they do not get angry, and if not visited for a long period of time they do not become resentful.    With the consultation and advice of a good Spiritual Director, formulate a good spiritual reading list.  Fr. Thomas Dubay stated that busy people only have time to read the best of books.    St Teresa of Avila would not admit women into the Carmelite order who could not read; the reason being, the saint knew how much wonderful and inspiring and educational material could be acquired by good reading! Establish your own library of good catholic books!

2.  Spiritual Direction.    St. John of the Cross put it bluntly:    “He who has himself as a directee has a dummy as a follower.”  It is like the blind leading the blind. We all have blind spots that we cannot see, but to others they glare like the noonday sun.  Spiritual direction serves to help us to encounter God in our lives, to arrive at self-knowledge, to detect our major spiritual roadblocks, and finally to seek out and find God’s will in our lives. St. Teresa of Avila would have never carried through with the reform of the Carmelites without spiritual direction.   St. Faustina Kowalska would have failed miserably to make known the treasures of Divine Mercy without the able assistance of Blessed Michael Sopocko.  St. Margaret Mary Alacoque never would have found acceptance of the famous apparitions of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, had it not been for the timely appearance on the scene of the Jesuit, St. Claude de la Colombiere.    Divine light often radiates through the human prism of the Spiritual Director!

3.  Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.   God raised up St. Ignatius to rescue a world in spiritual decline and spiritual battle. He wrote thousands of letters and anointed with gems of practical counsel and wisdom. The Holy Spirit inspired him to compose the Rules for Spiritual Discernment, the spiritual masterpiece that has proved to be a precious jewel in spirituality to help us to discern the motions or movements of the good spirit and open our hearts to receive and follow them. At the same time, the rules teach us to detect the “Bad vibes” of the enemy so as to reject them quickly, vigorously and constantly so  as to arrive at victory and receive one day the crown of glory. Finally, God inspired St. Ignatius to compose the Spiritual Exercises.    By doing the Spiritual Exercises and living out this divinely inspired program of spirituality one ascends from a mediocre, confused, apathetic spiritual life, to a vibrant, growing, dynamic relationship with Jesus Christ the King, a life-long pursuit of sanctity of life and an authentic witness to the world of holiness.

4.  Sharing the Faith.      Personal faith is not lost by sharing it with others. On the contrary, by sharing your faith with others it results in a mutual, double process of enrichment.    The one who listens is enlightened and inspired by the spiritual treasure shared and you who give are enriched for giving.    Pray for and look for opportunities to share your faith with others. Nobody can give what he does not have!    The more spiritual treasures we have, then the more we can give to others.

5.  Electronic Media. We live in a world with rapid progress, especially in the realm of the Mass media and the electronic media.  The mass media, like any other tool can be used for evil or for good.  As for us, we will use it as a means for our own sanctification!    When using the internet, find good good Catholic websites–know them, save them and log in to them; this can be a great source of permanent formation!    Youtube sermons and other videos–a short spiritual message, maybe only a minute or two–can enlighten us with an insight to console us and shed light on our path the whole day.    Podcasts!    These can be listened to at home, while cooking or cleaning, on the road on the way to work or in the quiet of one’s room before retiring for the night! Blogs!    Tap in to short but “meaty” spiritual topics, which might be on prayer, some virtue you need to practice, some heresy that must be understood and resisted, or some Marian reflection to lift up your mind and heart to “The Mystical Rose” who always points to Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life. Her last words recorded were “Do whatever He tells you!”

In conclusion, we are on a spiritual journey to heaven.  Ongoing Spiritual formation must be taken seriously. Many distractions can detour us from the purpose of our life, which is to praise God, reverence God, serve God and to save our soul for all eternity!

Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was and He responded: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with your entire mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” (Lk. 10: 27).

Credit to Fr. Ed Broom, OMV of CatholicExchange.

On Hearing God Speak

By:  Br. Isaac Augustine Morales, O.P

friends

How do we hear God speak?  It’s a common question, especially in the context of discerning one’s vocation. Many people wish God would appear to them in a vision and tell them what to do, or at least send a text message. But while there have been saints who were blessed with such experiences — St. Catherine of Siena, for example, received a vision at an early age, from which point she knew she would consecrate her life to the service of God — for most of us, God speaks in more subtle, mundane ways.

During the novitiate (the first year of Dominican formation), people often asked the novices how we had discerned God’s call to the Dominicans. Often I would use a story to illustrate an important aspect of my discernment (and of discernment in general).

One day a man heard a weather report about a flood that would wipe out his town. Concerned, he got on his knees and began to pray, “Lord, save me from the flood.” A few minutes later, his neighbor drove up in a pickup truck and said, “Bob, get in the truck — the flood’s coming!” But Bob replied, “No, thanks — the Lord is going to save me.”

The waters continued to rise, and Bob moved to the second floor. There he continued to pray, “Lord, save me from the flood.” A rescue boat came by and the men on the boat called out, “Sir, get in the boat, your house is going to be swamped soon.” But Bob replied, “No, thanks — the Lord is going to save me.”

The waters continued to rise, and Bob climbed up on the roof. He was getting nervous now, but unfazed, he continued to entrust himself to the Lord, “Lord, please save me from the flood!” A little later a helicopter came by and they shouted out to Bob, “Get in the helicopter! This is your last chance!” But again Bob said, “No, thanks — the Lord is going to save me.” The helicopter flew away, the waters continued to rise, and Bob, not being a great swimmer, drowned.

When he reached the pearly gates, Bob said to God, “Lord, I asked you over and over again to save me — why didn’t you answer me?” And God replied, “Bob, I sent you a truck, a boat, and a helicopter — what more did you want?”

The point of the story, of course, is that, while God might on occasion speak directly to us, more often He speaks to us through other people. Although for many years I resisted the call to the priesthood, I suspected deep down that this was what God had in store for me, because I would repeatedly get the question, “Are you going to be a priest?” From people who knew me well to complete strangers, everyone seemed to think that I was called to be a priest. Several people even suggested that I look into the Dominicans, sometimes in jest, other times quite seriously.

Gradually I came to realize that if I didn’t at least explore the call, I might one day end up like Bob. In fact, I distinctly recall telling a friend the story and having the sneaking suspicion in the back of my mind that I was, in fact, behaving like Bob. Thankfully, God eventually gave me the grace to overcome my stubbornness, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Though God most often speaks to us through other people, on occasion He can also send us little signs that we’re on the right path. But even these usually come through other people. Early on in my discernment with the Dominicans, I was visiting one of our communities. During the homily the celebrant took the opportunity to talk about discernment, and he used the very same story about the flood to illustrate the importance of relying on others to discern God’s voice.

Although it would be nice to get a message directly from God about what we’re supposed to do, there is a certain fittingness to the way God speaks to us through others. Every vocation has ramifications not only for the person answering the call, but for the community he or she is called to serve, be it the Church in the priesthood and religious life, or a family in the married state. In speaking to us through others – without impinging upon our freedom – God moves us to be instruments of His grace to our brothers and sisters.  By daring to answer his summons, united as one in Christ, we grow ever closer to he who is the source of our happiness and joy.

Credit to Br. Isaac Augustine Morales, O.P. of CatholicExchange.

 

The Great Gift of the Sacraments

By: Cynthia Trainque

sacraments

Seven sacraments–seven great gifts of love from God to his Holy Church.   Anyone aged 50 and over can easily recall from their Baltimore Catechism: “A sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to impart grace”.

Within the Christian family of believers only Roman Catholics and the various Eastern Orthodox churches have seven sacraments. Most Protestant communities have two – baptism and communion; a few observe only baptism or only communion. While the Latin word for sacrament (Sacramentum) is not in Scripture, its Greek translation is: “Mysterion” (mysteries). They have been entrusted by God to the Church by way of the holy apostles and their successors, the bishops as Paul states in 2 Cor. 4:1 – “Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God”.   From there, bishops can appoint presbyters (priests) to administer most but not all of the sacraments.

The church   groups the seven sacraments into three groups: the Sacraments of Initiation, the Sacraments of Healing and the Sacraments for Ministry.   But first, let’s look at the definition of sacraments.

An “outward sign”– physical rites within the Church.   Most are imparted by way of the sacred Liturgy. The Sign of the Cross, anointings, blessings and other actions performed by a priest with particular words/prayers.

“Instituted by Christ” – we make the invisible visible by the power of the Holy Spirit.

“To impart grace” – because of the presence of the Holy Spirit in each of the sacraments they do give life-giving grace to those who partake of them.

Here we should carefully note that all sacraments are considered as “Ex Opere Operato” which means that they are efficacious (effective) simply by manner of their being performed and not because of any level of holiness/righteousness by either the priest or by the recipient.   A priest who may be only luke-warm hearted in his ministry still administers the sacraments validly because it is God himself who effects the sacraments by means of the priest and does not originate from the priest himself.

The Sacraments of Initiation

Baptism, Eucharist and Confirmation. In Baptism water is poured three times over the head of the candidate. He/she is then anointed with sacred oil and is rendered a member of the “priesthood of all believers” and is thus able to assist in offering the sacred Liturgy with the episcopos/bishop and/or presbyter/priest. Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and many Protestant denominations baptize according to Jesus’ mandate: “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt. 28:19). Some baptize in Jesus’ name only, even while using this same citation of Matthew as well as Acts 19:5.

Baptism leaves an indelible mark upon a person’s soul and can never be undone or repeated. It also forgives sins, according to Acts 2:38, but many Protestant communities reject this even though it is clearly biblical. It also “now saves you” according to the chief apostle himself in 1 Pet. 3:21. In the Catholic Church, in all Eastern Orthodox churches and in most mainline Protestant communities (Anglican, Episcopalian, Lutheran, Methodist, some Presbyterians and Congregationalists) infant baptism is insisted upon unless an adult elects to become a member of that community. Even at that, the various churches accept each other’s baptism if it was according to the Trinitarian formula.

The idea of being baptized as adults (Believers’ Baptism) only came about in the 16th century with the Anabaptists – a term meaning to re-baptize. Amish, Mennonites, the Assembly of God and many others reject infant baptism and thus require adult baptism for all of its members. For their children they use a ceremony called “baby dedication” in imitation of Joseph and Mary bringing Jesus to the temple to dedicate him. Yet, that act was only for first-born sons who opened the womb…not for females or even second, third, fourth-born, etc. sons because the father had to declare “This is my first-born son of this wife” (see Ex. 13:13-16 and Num 3:45-47).

In the Old Testament it was God himself who decreed that all male children be circumcised at the age of eight days old even though clearly they are incapable of choosing it for themselves; it was important, though, for circumcision made one a member of the sacred covenant with God (Note:   circumcision does not make a person Jewish…they are born Jewish or convert into the faith).   It was unheard of in the days of Jesus and the early Church (and for 1500+ years) for a person to choose his/her own faith because women and children were seen as mere possessions and incapable of deciding when they wanted to be baptized.   It is the primary reason entire households were baptized together.   Even though Jesus himself was baptized as an adult, he was not baptized into anything.   Nor did he  need  baptism – his holy presence in the water blessed the action of baptism and fulfilled the baptism of John by bringing it to a new level.

Confirmation

This sacrament completes baptism and it is the occasion when the baptized are able to definitively choose the Church for themselves. Like Baptism it also leaves an indelible mark on one’s soul that cannot be undone. The seven-fold gifts of the Holy Spirit are given at Confirmation: fear of the Lord, piety, knowledge, understanding, counsel, wisdom and fortitude.   The Bishop confirms each candidate individually with the same nine words “Be sealed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit”. Why is a Bishop the one who confirms?   In the early Church the Bishop administered all the sacraments as well as offered the weekly Mass.   However, the Church grew very quickly both in size and geographically making it impossible for him to cover everything.

The saying of Mass and administering baptism was given over to the priests who served within the priesthood of each individual Bishop but because Confirmation is the sacrament that completes the initiation of a candidate into the Church it is still reserved to the Bishop.   Local pastors may Confirm at the Easter Vigil (again, for sheer numbers) but pastors who receive people into the church outside of the vigil must have the Bishop’s expressed permission. For more on Confirmation go here:http://catholiceducation.org/articles/religion/re0451.html

The Holy Eucharist    

Food of all foods, Bread of all breads.   I have covered this Holy Sacrament in my  second essay of this series  here.

The Sacraments of Healing

The Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession) and the Anointing of the Sick.   About Confession the question is often asked, “Why confess your sins to a priest…why not just go to God?” One reason is for humility and not an act of presumption that God has forgiven the sin(s). Many Protestants who go direct to God oftentimes admit to being unsure as to whether God has truly forgiven their sins…or even heard their request for forgiveness.   While Jesus did say to the apostles that “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them” (Jn 20:23) many Protestants seem to be unaware that Jesus also said “whose sins you retain are retained”.

In order for them to be forgiven or retained they must be heard. Thus three things are necessary before the priest can give absolution:   true repentance of sin(s), a firm intention to “avoid the near occasion of sin” (Act of Contrition) and a form of penance.     The other thing about confessing through a priest is that St. Paul makes clear in 1 Cor. 12:25-26 that “if one part of the body hurts, every other part hurts and is involved in the healing”.   This is also true spiritually. Therefore sin not only affects our relationship with God but with others as well.

When Jesus appeared to his apostles and spoke to them about forgiving and retaining sin he first breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit”. Outside of placing the breath of life into mankind (Gen. 2:7), it is the only time that Jesus breathed on the apostles.

And isn’t there really only one kind of sin rather than the idea of mortal sin?   Why differentiate?   We do so because the apostle John said so: “If anyone sees his brother sinning, if the sin is not deadly, he should pray to God and he will give him life. This is only for those whose sin is not deadly. There is such a thing as deadly sin, about which I do not say that you should pray.All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not deadly” (1 Jn 5:16-17). Stealing twenty dollars from someone’s purse cannot be elevated to the level of murder…nor can murder be equated to the level of stealing twenty dollars.

The Sacrament of the Sick

“Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray. Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint [him] with oil in the name of the Lord,and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven” (James 5:13-15). How good it is that this great sacrament exists.   Formerly called Extreme Unction because it was the last of four sacraments that use the oil of anointing (Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Orders are the other three), it is now administered to those who are seriously ill or facing surgery and no longer reserved for a person who is very close to death. Therefore it is possible for a person to receive this anointing more than once in life. Incorporated in this sacrament is the sacrament of reconciliation – therefore it is one of sacraments reserved to the priest. The others are Confirmation (unless it is the Easter Vigil or the priest has special permission from the Bishop), the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and Holy Orders.

 

Holy Orders  are the second level of the three ordained functions within the ministry of Jesus Christ. The first level is ordination to the Diaconate (from Diakonos/Diakonoz), meaning one who serves.   Deacons may not hear Confessions nor confect the Holy Eucharist. During the sacred Liturgy his function is as minister of the cup (chalice). Permanent deacons may be married–but the marriage must come first. If his wife dies, he may ask to enter into the priesthood but he must begin anew his seminary training.

The third level of sacred ministry is that of Bishop (from Episkopos/Episkopoz), which loosely means overseer.   I say “loosely” because his role is so much more.   His is the fullness of the priesthood…he is truly Vicar of Christ according to  Lumen Gentium  #27.   All priests must be ordained by a bishop; all bishops must be ordained by three bishops. For an eye-opening experience on the continuity of the Church in terms of Episcopal lineage/apostolic succession,  go to this site,  and find your bishop’s name.   Read who consecrated him and then follow the line backwards…all the way to the 1500′s–likely when formal records were first kept. Even today 95% of priests and bishops (even Pope Francis) trace their apostolic heritage through Cardinal Rebiba.   His was a time of great battles amongst the various Italian states so it is no surprise that records prior to him are scant, if any.

The second level of sacred ministry is the priesthood (from Presbyteros/Presbutepoz), meaning elder or priest. Priests are “ordained for sacrifice”–a term all Protestants took out of their ordination rites many years ago because they do not believe that the Eucharist is a sacrifice…they believe it to be symbolic only.

Sacred ordination is one of the three sacraments that leaves an indelible mark on the priest’s soul (the other two are Baptism and Confirmation).   He is, according to the rite of ordination a “priest forever”.

When priests are ordained, they marry their cherished spouse the Church in imitation of Jesus Christ who laid down his life for her.   Through that marriage they infuse life into the Church which the faithful lovingly receive, nurture within and bring forth to new life among God’s holy people and for the salvation of all the world. It is the reason he remains celibate–his bride is the Holy Catholic Church.   In union with Jesus and by the power of the Holy Spirit he makes Jesus truly present–Body, Blood, soul and divinity–at each and every Mass that he says. Jesus himself affirmed celibacy after Peter complained about giving up everything to follow Jesus.   Jesus’ reply to Peter was that there was “no man who has left house or  wife  or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God” (Lk 18:29) who would go unrewarded.   Although Peter clearly was married at the time Jesus called him to follow him, (Jesus had healed Peter’s mother-in-law)…Peter’s mother-in-law would not cease to be his mother-in-law because he did not divorce her–but only set his sights and heart on the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus further affirms celibacy when he tells his apostles that “there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 19:12) while also stating that “not all men can receive this precept, but only those to whom it is given”. Therefore celibacy is a gift.

Not so long ago my family’s Assembly of God community had five pastors which meant salaries to take care of five wives, many children, five mortgages, cars, college tuitions, etc.   When the time came for them to search for a new head pastor it was determined that his family would always come first, so in times of family crisis the pastor would need to break church engagements to take care of a spouse, child, or in-law. His “interests are divided” (1 Cor. 7:32). On the other hand, when a priest in any diocese dies, the bishop is free to quickly send another priest to take his place without it being a cause of concern or hardship for any wife, child(ren) or mortgage.

Some Protestants make the claim that priesthood is no longer necessary but it was never done away with. Paul speaks of his “priestly service of the gospel” in his Letter to the Romans in 15:16.   All priests serve in the one priesthood of Jesus Christ and not something outside of it. Valid words as said by Jesus and valid matter–”wheat alone” (Canon Law #924, ¶2) for the hosts and “natural wine”–must be used. Most Protestants use grape juice and one or two faith communities use water. For a priest to use hosts made of rice or other grain/seed is to make communion invalid; indeed nothing at all happens…no transubstantiation.   It simply remains as rice and does not become the Precious Body of Jesus.

Holy Matrimony  is the sacred act by which one man and one woman enter into a sacred covenant in order to become co-creators with God. They, too, bring forth new life for that is what the relationship is all about.   In imitation of God who infuses life into all things and a priest who mystically infuses life into the Church, so it is the male–the father–who implants life into the body of the woman who receives that life, nurtures it within and brings it forth.   This is why we address God as “Father” for from him all things have their origin.   In human reproduction, too, it is through the male that all of life has its origin.   He then is also called “Father”.

The roles of male and female, of course, are different…but complimentary.   Two males cannot give life one to another and two women cannot receive life one from another.   For there to be new life which springs forth from that deep and intimate union there must be one of each.   Jesus himself stated that the two–male and female–become “one flesh”.

Marriage is meant to be for “the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of children” (Canon Law #1055).   Marriage is so important that “It is strongly recommended that those to be married approach the sacraments of penance and the Most Holy Eucharist so that they may fruitfully receive the sacrament of marriage” (Canon Law 1065, ¶2).   It is only the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches that see marriage as a sacrament.   No Protestant community does.

All dioceses have forms they use as part of the interview process/journey with the couple.   Two of the most important questions that it asks are these:

“The Catholic church teaches that marriage is a permanent union to be entered without reservation or intention of divorce. Do you intend the marriage to be such a marriage?”

“The Catholic Church teaches that persons entering marriage  must mutually exchange the right to have children of this union  (italics mine). Do you intend to give your spouse this right?”

Indeed, that second question comes straight from Sacred Scripture:   “The husband should fulfill his conjugal duty toward his wife, and likewise the wife toward her husband. A wife does not have authority over her own body, but rather her husband, and similarly a husband does not have authority over his own body, but rather his wife. Do not deprive each other…” (1 Cor. 7:3-4).

All men and women are made in the “image and likeness” (Gen. 1:26) of God; therefore all people are holy.   This is why the Church in her great wisdom insists that the sacred covenant of marriage takes place before the procreation of children.   It is the same with a priest.   He must be validly ordained by a bishop before he is able to say Mass and to make Jesus present in the Eucharist.     A couple must be validly married with a solemn blessing by the priest before a sacred act–the pro-creation of children.

Because all sacraments are for the people of God and not just for the ones receiving them (the marriage will be lived out in the community and in the Church and not just in the home) then the wedding must take place in a church and not in Aunt Martha’s rose garden or onboard ship.

In the original Greek, the term for “gift” that Paul uses in speaking of marriage is Charisma/Carisma–making it a spiritual gift of the Holy Spirit, just as priesthood is (see 1 Cor. 7:7) . Therefore both Holy Orders and Holy Matrimony give powerful testimony to our loving God who gives such gifts.

Credit to Cynthia Trainque of CatholicExchange.